Marching ahead

The successful launch of the Agni-IV missile from the Odisha coast has taken India to the doors of the exclusive inter-continental ballistic missile  (ICBM) club. Scientists and engineers of the Defence Research and Development Organisation  (DRDO) and other agencies associated with the programme and the country at large can be proud of the achievement.

Though the working of the DRDO has generally left much to be desired, it has done good work in some areas. Development of missile technology is one of them. The development and improvement of missile technology has paralleled the progress made in the refinement of space technology which has helped the country to become a member of the space club also. This is no surprise because the technologies are related. The success of Agni-IV has set the stage for the launch of Agni-V, which is expected to be tested in February.

Agni-V will mark a quantum leap because it will be an ICBM with a range of over 5000 km. There has been a steady progress from a small technology demonstrator missile based on SLV-3 through various versions like Agni-II and Agni-III  to the present stage. 

Agni-III, tested in 2007, has a range of over 3500 km and Agni-IV is bigger and has a longer range. The proposed next version will not only have a longer range but will also have systems that provide better navigation and greater accuracy. Agni-V missiles can carry multiple nuclear warheads and can be transported by road and launched from mobile platforms.

All this makes it an effective deterrent. After Agni-V is tested, it will take about three years for it to be made operational and inducted into the armed forces. With Agni-V about to be a reality, it is sometimes noted that India will have the capability to strike even the farthest part of China in the event of hostilities.

While this may be true this only has a theoretical value because no one expects a clash with China or any other country. India has a nuclear doctrine which has willingly abjured first use. There is also a cap on the range of missiles in the present strategic environment.  But the missile programme, as it is envisaged now, is necessary to protect the growing economic and other interests of the country.

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